Once upon a time, a rapper by the name of Kanye West released his fourth album, 808s and Heartbreak, and subsequently altered the course of the rap genre forever.
In the midst of relationship turmoil and his mother's passing, Kanye experimented with a new sound in order to convey his depression and sorrow. While not commercially successful or flashy like his previous releases, the record would go on to be perhaps his most influential.
Outside of artists like T-Pain, the use of auto-tune in hip-hop was almost non-existent. The new technology was fun on radio hits, but in a genre almost entirely built on bravado and "who can spit better" debates, it seemed as if there was no place for it.
808s changed all of that. For the first time in modern popular culture, you were hearing a rapper sing, albeit heavily auto-tuned, about loss and sorrow, topics that weren't very prominent in mainstream rap at the time. While the trend has never been wholly accepted by the rap community, its relevance in 2017 is undeniable.
Case in point: Luv Is Rage 2, the fourth studio album of Philly-rapper Lil Uzi Vert. Nearly nine months after he announced the project was in the works, news broke Thursday that the highly awaited project would drop at midnight. With so many eyes on this particular project, it felt like a debut record for the 23-year old. Despite the newly-garnered attention and anticipation, Lil Uzi Vert did not disappoint after leading fans on for nearly a year.
On the opening track "Two," Uzi reflects on his newly minted relevance in this generation of "mumble rappers."
"I'm the one who really started all of this...there's no way they can stop it," he says. And critics be damned — they can't.
Over a 16-song tracklist, Uzi unloads his pent up rage via a myriad of sounds and vocal cadences. While he may not brand himself a rapper, Uzi's rapid fire delivery and flow are the bones of this record. The head-nod worthy bars on tracks like "444+222" and "For Real" hold down the auto-tuned crooning and...wait for it... mumbling.
In the interview with Zane Lowe that dropped simultaneously with the album, Lil Uzi talked about "waiting for the right time" to release the album. After listening through Luv is Rage 2, it's clear that the time was now.
Whereas in years past auto-tune served more so as a vocal aesthetic, playfully aiding voices of high profile stars like Drake and Future, it finds itself integral to the sound of today's music and Uzi himself. It couldn't be more fitting that Lil Uzi Vert has been passed the torch of auto-tune revolutionary.
Lil Uzi Vert is 2017.
The "King of the Kids" and his latest album embody a generation of artists and fans whose affinity for a wide-array of genres birthed a movement of music that flaunts aspects of electronic, grunge, rock, and hip-hop.
Is it a wholesome embodiment of the rap genre? Absolutely not; Uzi himself would be the first one to tell you he isn't a rapper.
This fusion of genres is prominent on the entire album. On "The Way Life Goes," Uzi stretches his voice and flow on slower paced raps to create a melodic pop sound. In the same space, his animated and electronic vocals whine and scratch in a way that is reminiscent of more emo-centered music. This is no surprise, as Uzi lists fellow emo icon Marlyn Manson as his biggest inspiration.
At times you can tell the record is being polished off by a kid. His adolescent rambling and penchant for auto-tuned repetitions of the same line or word can produce some yawns, but overall are spaced out enough throughout the album that it doesn't feel overbearing.
Wisely, Lil Uzi Vert rounds out the record with 2017 smash hit "XO Tour Lif3," which peaked at no. seven on the Billboard charts earlier this year.
If he had released Luv is Rage 2 earlier in the year, amongst the white noise of the mumble rap debate (and hate) Lil Uzi Vert's efforts on a solid project may have gone unheralded. As we dive into the second half of 2017, his sound and appeal make this the perfect time for him to make his debut into the mainstream, if he hasn't already.
While critics and haters, myself included, have clung to Uzi over years like Trump to Twitter, they'll find it hard to disregard this record. While not a rap album, Luv is Rage 2 is one of the better surprises of 2017. While it's a step away from more hip hop oriented records that feature auto-tune, like 808s, it deserves recognition for its importance in an evolving music industry.
Critic's rating — 3.5/5
Lil Uzi Vert will play Wild 94.1 FM's Last Damn Show on November 3, 2017 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. More information on the show is available here and on local.cltampa.com. Listen to 'Luv Is Rage 2' below. Download the record here.